Interpretations:Less Than One

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Lobotomized man[edit]

A song about a man oblivious to the fact that his behaviour has become eccentric and demented after getting a lobotomy. This explains the protagonist having half his brain missing. AnaNgInASpaceSuit (talk) 22:25, 12 November 2021 (EST)

It's supernatural how spaced out we can be[edit]

I like to think this song is about just how mind numbing quarantine was. Or maybe this song is about listening to music too much, with the ten radios and stuff, I know my brain function is slower after listening to nothing but music for 8 hours straight --⇂⇂↋ suᴉɥsuǝZ ʎɯɯᴉᒋ (talk) 07:56, 16 November 2021 (EST)


This song describes a person whose thoughts are constantly racing because they second-guess absolutely everything they think and do. Everything is phrased more complicatedly than necessary, they constantly revise and undo and fret.

It hampers their ability to do even simple things, like eat a burrito without spilling it, and it keeps them from enjoying life, because they barely taste their food and instantly forget what they do taste. It also causes terrible insomnia, and none of the speaker's attempts to distract themselves works.

But the key thing here is the line referenced by the title: "Less than one of the seven ideas I had / Might be something I don't later regret"

There's a concept in psychology of "seven plus or minus two," which describes the number of things a person can keep in mind at any given time. So although "less than one of the seven ideas" is an overly tortuous way of saying "none of the seven ideas," that phrasing also suggests that there was a good idea there, but the speaker couldn't keep their mind on it with the seven bad ideas also there.

This is the core of the speaker's mindset. They're constantly coming up with ideas, but they judge themselves harshly and so think most of those ideas are bad. The way to solve this problem is to keep coming up with ideas, hoping that a handful of them end up working. But you never know if the new idea you just came up with is crowding out a good one that you discarded too quickly. 18:49, 4 December 2021 (EST)


This song is about viewing the world in terms of probabilities, an epistemic position known as Academic scepticism (R. A. Wilson has popularized it under the term "model agnosticism"). It treats practical life in terms of inductive knowledge, which is always probabilistic, never apodictic or 100% certain. All knowledge is only true in degrees, as in statistical knowledge. The title of the song expresses this plainly: Less Than One, as in anything between 0.99 and 0.00. All statistics are expressed in terms of percent of one: a fifty percent chance of something happening, in statistical math, is written as 0.5.

The song's narrator judges their own life in terms of probabilities to an absurd degree, and in doing so Linnell paints a picture of a life of pervasive dissatisfaction. The narrator might be able to express their own feelings and behaviors in terms of very precise probabilities, based either on personal experience or given knowledge, and thus achieves a kind of uniquely objective viewpoint. Perhaps we could call it a toxic objectivity: in scrutinizing the utilitarian rewards of certain beliefs and behaviors, the narrator runs backwards and forwards (literally, as in the chorus) and believes in both sides of everything. Seeing both sides of things sacrifices practical activity for facticity. We see academic scepticism tending hopelessly towards Pyrrhonic scepticism, the kind which is inadvertently counterproductive and even self-destructive.

Even though the song is about a person's own viewpoint, it could also function as an allegory for the toxic objectivity of journalism (Tobacco Industry Playbook). The whole album seems fixated upon the problems of the contemporary public sphere.

Burrito percentages[edit]

All I know is the burrito percentages discussed are pretty abysmal. And then after only tasting 1.8% of his burrito, John forgets the experience altogether. Could it be about anything more than messily eating a forgettable burrito? Perhaps. Twoshoes (talk) 20:34, 5 January 2022 (EST)

Head Blown Off (Partially)[edit]

My take, after singing this in the car for two days straight, is that the protagonist's head was partially blown off.

Was he killed while eating a burrito? Was he a man who knew too much and couldn't safely go home? Did the co-owner of the time-share do him in? Is he a she? I don't know, but...

What makes me think this song is about death:

1 - It's upbeat and by TMBG.

2 - You can't later-regret 1 of 7 ideas if you're dead. You later-regret 0 of 7 ideas.

3 - How can half of you stay at a time-share? Blam, splat. That's how.

4 - The protagonist has got part of a brain.

5 - And the blown off portion of his head includes part of his face, leaving the corpse with one eye. Hence the "point five" times he closed his eyes. Yes 0.5/1000000 = 1/2000000, but you don't emphasize half without a good reason. Having half of your eyes is a good reason to emphasize half.

6 - He "couldn't open them again." Them being half of his closed eyes, which is really one eye, which is really an it, but "them" works because eyes-plural... oh never mind. He couldn't open point-five of his eyes again ever because he's dead. The other eye is part of a blown-off head, so it neither opens nor closes.

7 - The name of the song is Less Than One. It's about less than one person. Part of a person. He's missing at least part of a brain, one eye, and the bits that normally keep those things attached to the rest of a head.

Legendary Sidekick (talk) 10:49, 20 January 2022 (EST)

An old joke[edit]

Since nobody's mentioned it yet: the "I took a walk, I got tired" part of the lyrics is a play on a joke that's been around forever, which I'd expect the Johns are familiar with. There are probably other variants floating around, but the version I've heard comes phrased in the odd hair-color-based misogyny of so many "classic" American jokes:

A blonde, a brunette, and a redhead are trapped on a desert island, and they decide to try to swim for help. The brunette tries first; she gets about a quarter of the way to the mainland before she loses strength and drowns. The redhead sets out next, and she makes it about halfway before she drowns. Finally, the blonde sets out; she makes it about three-quarters of the way to the mainland, then says "I'm tired" and swims back to the island.

I much prefer the version from this song, where the narrator is the butt of the joke!

-- 00:35, 21 January 2022 (EST)


The protagonist likely has ADHD or some other disorder that is impacting their life. The lyrics that most strongly suggests this are the ones about them making decisions (I took a walk, I got tired...). The narrator cannot stay focused on what they wish to do, switching between wanting to take a walk, turning around because of tiredness (almost getting home), and then turning around a second time. The distraction they experience is so severe that it makes something relatively simple, such as taking a walk, hard to do- not only because they are having trouble focusing, but because that lack of focus makes the task larger (turning around twice on a walk means you walk over some parts of your path multiple times, increasing how long your walk is. Writing something down and then erasing it, then regretting both decisions, may be the narrator regretting wasting their time having created nothing. They regret writing something because it got them distracted in something they know now was a waste of time, and they regret erasing their work because they could have spent that time doing something else.

Other parts of the lyrics also suggest the narrator could have some mental disorder. Insomnia can be linked to ADHD, and it is clearly something that the narrator experiences and tries to fight off (unsuccessfully). The narrator buying half of a time share and "staying there" is likely them overthinking their purchase of a timeshare, and something they can't truly stop thinking about. They will try to to something else, but half their mind will still be concerned with the timeshare. The narrator being not entirely wrong about having part of a brain implies either A. The narrator thought they had a whole brain or B. that they had no brain. My guess is that the narrator previously assumed that they had a whole brain (were able to function), but now see that they can only function somewhat. The part of a brain they don't have (that has a migraine) could be their disorder affecting some of their life. Finally, the narrator having 7 ideas and regretting most of them later may be them having many impulsive ideas that they later regret. 01:29, 17 February 2022 (EST)

Creativity and creative blocks[edit]

Like many other TMBG songs (e.g. Snowball in Hell, Wait Actually No, and gobs of others) this one is about the creative process.

How almost all initial ideas go nowhere, and how the processes of putting down ideas on tape/on paper result in so many ideas coming to a dead stop.

"Less than one" is, I think, the repeated smaller than one numbers in the Drake Equation.